WASHINGTON (AP) - Foes of the North American Free Trade Agreement seem a handful of votes shy of being able to kill the pact in Wednesday's House showdown, leaving President Clinton with an uphill but achievable fight to save the deal, an Associated Press survey has found.
With opponents of the agreement needing 217 votes to prevail, 204 representatives said they would vote against the measure or were likely to do so, the survey found. The figure included 179 who said they would vote "no," and 25 who said they were leaning that way.
Arrayed against them were 179 supporters of NAFTA, which would phase out tariffs and other restrictions on trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada. Of these, 165 said they would vote for the agreement and 14 said they
were likely to do so.
That left 51 undeclared lawmakers and a daunting task for Clinton and his congressional allies, who would suffer a major political setback should the pact be rejected.
Even if they retain all 14 representatives leaning toward the agreement, they will need the votes of 39 of the undecideds, nearly four of every five. The measure will need a majority of votes to pass, which means 218 if everyone casts a ballot. There is one House vacancy.
Both sides in the battle exuded cautious confidence Sunday, based on their own secret surveys of sentiment.
"I see a horse race, a down-to-the-wire, hand-to-hand battle that will be decided during the vote," Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., a vote-counter for supporters, said Sunday. "My prediction is a narrow victory."
"I think we're going to win," House Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., a leading congressional opponent, said in an interview.
But in a reference to deals on citrus fruits, window glass and other items the White House has offered lawmakers for their votes, Bonior added, "It will depend on how much pressure members of Congress feel from their constituents whether we hold our own."
Richardson said he had tallied 199 votes for the treaty and about 192 opponents. Bonior said he counted 221 NAFTA opponents, 10 others leaning that way, 161 backers and 20 leaning toward support.
Should the House approve the package, the Senate would vote next. Senators are expected to approve the measure.
As expected, the AP survey showed that support for the trade compact is much stronger among Republicans than Democrats.
Among Democrats, 78 House members support the agreement or are likely to, while 155 oppose it or probably will. On the GOP side, there are 102 supporters or likely "yes" votes, and 47 certain or probable opponents.
The undecided votes are about evenly split between the parties: 25 Democrats and 26 Republicans.
Congress' one independent, Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, is against NAFTA.
The responses also showed that as anticipated, Clinton is doing best in many Southern states closest to Mexico and likely to enjoy bursts of new business if the deal is enacted.
Sentiment is divided in California, whose 52-member delegation is the House's biggest.
Its lawmakers are torn between a desire to boost trade with Mexico, its neighbor, and concerns that jobs will flow south and environmental problems will erupt.
The deal is least popular in Northern "Rust Belt" states.